Grafetee, a location-bookmarking startup with backing from Finnish government, has officially launched. The company’s apps, available for free on the App Store and Play Store, make it easier for users to find, bookmark, and share places of interest with their friends, family, and the Finnish police force.
Essentially, Grafetee is to places as the bookmarks folder is to Web pages. Users can scout out a few locations that they’d like to visit – for, say, vacationing or house-hunting – and, with the click of a button, save that location to their devices. Though this sounds (and is) fairly simple, it’s much more convenient than finding a location on the computer and hoping to remember it long enough to search for it again later.
Alternately, users can take a picture of a location and share it with their friends without having to go through the “search, grab a link, and text it” rigamarole. The system can be used for everyday tasks, like sharing a new restaurant with a significant other, but where it really shines is as a white-label solution that Grafetee can tweak to suit other groups’ needs. First up: Finland’s police force.
Like Grafetee’s consumer app, the police force’s implementation is all about convenience. Its call centers were often tied up with people complaining about non-emergencies, like a busted-up sidewalk or an abandoned car – genuine problems, but not something that warrants calling the police on an emergency-specific line. With Grafetee, users can snap a photo of the offending location and share it with the police right from their phones, offering the public a way to make police aware of an issue without calling and wasting an officers’ time.
Grafetee CEO Juha Huttunen says that the service is also piloting a version for elementary and high school students that would make it easier for students to do field reporting. Science teachers could task their students with finding cool, science-y things outside of the school and tagging each with a location, making it easier to verify and share their findings with the rest of the class. (Side note: Finland’s schools sound like a lot more fun than schools in the US.)
Conceptually, Grafetee is reminiscent of Catch-em, a service founded in Israel that makes it easier to report horrible, law-breaking drivers with smartphones. Both services make reporting unlawful activity or problems – one with the community in general, the other with auto-related issues – as easy as snapping a picture and pushing a button, and both siphon those reports to the proper authorities so the average citizen doesn’t have to.
Unlike Catch-em, however, Grafetee is making a go of it in both the public and private sectors. The Finnish government’s money is subsidizing the company’s consumer-facing product, which in turn can act as a testing ground and proof-of-concept for further private-sector advancements. Rather than asking customers to pay for the service or throwing an ad in front of users’ faces, Grafetee has decided to work as a business-to-business or business-to-government startup that also happens to put out a consumer product.
This approach, and the idea that startups can work with the government and consumers, is rare in the Valley. Most startups – with some notable exceptions, like Votebox, Ruck.us, and NationBuilder – tend to take a punk-rock, “fuck the establishment!” mentality. That’s starting to change, especially since SOPA and PIPA rocked the Web, but most companies choose to rely on investors instead of the feds.
Outside of the Valley, however, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Grafetee and Catch-em are both happy to work with government agencies, and other countries, like Israel and Turkey, are offering incentives to startups that establish a presence on their soil instead of in the US. Part of this might have to do with the attitude in the US that relying on the government is a no-no, and part of it might just be that startups in the US don’t feel that they need the government. In the US, your choices are venture capital, bootstrapping, or working with the government, and many choose the first two to the exclusion of the third.
Unfortunately, those options aren’t quite as viable outside of the Valley – yet. I’m not usually one to take the “Silicon Valley is the best place to build a company!” argument (and that’s not what I’m trying to do here), but it’s almost impossible to say that the Valley’s history allows it to fill the role that the government might play in other countries.